• Erin Hegarty
    MAR 31, 2021

    Taliaferro cites virtual format after canceling two consecutive public safety meetings amid budget hike


    The chair of the City Council Committee on Public Safety abruptly canceled two consecutive monthly meetings after stating an intention at the beginning of the year to meet more frequently. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) told The Daily Line on Tuesday he still plans to meet twice per month, but grappling with other committees to schedule virtual meetings has  presented more challenges than scheduling in-person meetings.

    The committee responsible for considering significant new legislation on civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department and reforms to police search warrant procedures has not met since January.

    Taliaferro said at the end of last year that he would convene the public safety committee — the only City Council committee to see a bump in its annual budget — twice per month this year. Instead, the committee has met just twice in three months, and passed just one binding piece of legislation.

    “I’d love to meet more,” Taliaferro said, adding he has a “huge binder” of information on proposals to be heard. “My staff is available; my staff is ready. It’s a matter of getting that date number one.”

    The alderman said it’s difficult to get dates on the calendar for committee meetings while they’re meeting electronically and not in person because the city cannot schedule two meetings for the same time, whereas that is possible for in-person meetings in City Hall. Additionally, there are generally two time-slots available for meetings: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

    When committees were meeting in person, aldermen could more easily schedule meetings working through the council liaisons, but  virtual meetings require committee chairs to work through the mayor’s intergovernmental affairs staff, he said. Taliaferro said he understands the difficulty in scheduling virtual meetings during the pandemic, and especially with the uptick in cases the city is seeing “we cannot downplay the lives that are being lost.”

    “Until we can get back into full-swing, then we have to get what we can get,” Taliaferro said.

    Meetings this year

    The public safety committee met twice in January, first to formalize edits to two civilian police oversight proposals into committee and for a subject matter hearing (R2020-987) on the city’s spike in carjackings. The committee reconvened on Jan. 26 from a recessed Jan. 22 meeting to approve a proposal (SOr2020-241) for a “COP House” from Ald. Anthony Beale (9).


    But the committee’s February and March meetings were both canceled less than two days from their scheduled dates. Aldermen had been scheduled during the February meeting to vote on proposals for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department and during the March meeting a proposal to increase fines and fees for people caught drag racing and drifting.

    The February meeting was canceled to allow Mayor Lori Lightfoot time to submit her own separate proposal on civilian oversight of the police department.


    “I don’t cancel meetings on my own accord,” Taliaferro said, adding the night before the scheduled March public safety meeting, Ald. Pat Dowell (3), sponsor of the only ordinance on the agenda, asked for the item to be pulled.

    And it’s a balance between building an agenda and allowing enough time for discussion on each item. “You have to take into account there’s going to be extensive conversations,” Taliaferro said.

    Further complicating schedules is when the public safety committee is required to hold meetings within “a certain amount of days” after various reports come out, including Civilian Office of Police Accountability quarterly reports, which can “bounce things off the agenda,” Taliaferro said.

    A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

    Committee budget increase

    The public safety committee’s budget for 2021 is $213,800, a 27 percent increase from its budget in 2020. The $45,000 increase was for “personnel services” while the budgets of all other City Council committees remained flat from 2020.

    The increase in the personnel line of the committee’s budget was for an additional staff assistant, Taliaferro said, and it wasn’t necessarily for the committee to meet more frequently.

    “It was so we could handle the work that we presently have, so that I’m better capable of handling the workload I do have,” Taliaferro said, adding there is “a lot of research” he is hoping the committee can get done too.

    Ordinances, resolutions and orders, some significant, introduced in 2020 and this year were assigned to the public safety committee, many of which have not yet been called for a vote.

    A group of Black alderwomen in February introduced the Anjanette Young Ordinance (O2021-764) in direct response to the Chicago Police Department's wrong raid of Young’s home. The ordinance aims to establish new standards and procedures for search warrants. 

    Related: City Council meeting ends abruptly after aldermen delay passage of two controversial measures

    Taliaferro has not called the ordinance for a vote in his committee, and Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown earlier in March introduced their own plan to stop erroneous search warrant incidents.

    Related: Lightfoot, Brown push to tighten rules on police warrants as Young raid investigations drag on

    Ald. Maria Hadden (49), the lead sponsor of the Anjanette Young Ordinance, said it is “frustrating” the measure has not yet been called. She said she has talked to Taliaferro about calling it for a hearing and a vote. 

    “He has explained he has a lot of things waiting for the agenda,” Hadden said, adding the sponsors have “made it clear we want a hearing.”

    The public safety committee “does have a heavy load,” Hadden said. But other committees she serves on, including the zoning committee, “also have a heavy load,” and she said especially in times of virtual meetings “there are ways to make things work.”

    “With as many important issues as we have pending there around public safety, I would like to have a better understanding of why we’re not advancing them sooner,” Hadden said.

    Still, Hadden said passing a civilian oversight ordinance is currently one of the city’s “most important” priorities.

    “I’m excited for us to move forward in something promised to us almost two years ago,” Hadden said. “Right now, I think the city of Chicago’s priority number one should be civilian accountability. If that needs to come first in order for us to move on to other things, I support that.”

    Taliaferro said he gets where frustrated aldermen are coming from.

    “I understand the frustration of not being able to hear an item,” Taliaferro said, adding every alderman believes their proposal is important.  “They are all very important and I don’t put one above the other... But a lot of that is not just calling it, but the leg work that goes with.”

    Taliaferro said he has not yet heard whether committee meetings will be back to in-person in April, but he is hoping to be able to schedule at least three committee meetings next month including a joint meeting with the Committee on Health and Human Relations and a joint meeting with the Committee on Finance regarding the Green v. Chicago Police Department case.

    Additional ordinances currently assigned to the public safety committee include a proposal by Ald. Pat Dowell (3) to increase fines and fees for people caught drag racing (SO2021-363) and a resolution (R2021-38) by Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) calling for the resignation of John Catanzara as president and member of the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

    Other City Council committees, subject matter hearings

    While the public safety committee was the only one to see its budget upped in 2021, the city also added a Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which was budgeted $111,500 — the same amount the Special Legislative Committee on the Census was allocated in 2020.

    Additionally, the city created a Subcommittee on Reparations under the Committee on Health and Human Relations, but the health committee’s budget did not increase from 2020, budget documents show.

    According to schedules on City Clerk Anna Valencia’s website, City Council committees have met 46 times so far this year, counting meetings recessed and reconvened later as one meeting. Committees met 41 times during the first quarter of 2020, 31 times in the first three months of 2019 and 44 times in the same time period in 2018, including committees that no longer exist.

    The number of City Council committee meetings held in 2020 surged past the number of such meetings held in 2019 and years prior.

    Related: Transparent or unproductive? Aldermen mixed over surge in ‘subject matter’ hearings

    Aldermen were mixed on the increase in “subject matter hearings,” during which aldermen hear from and ask questions of experts on various topics but no votes are taken.

    A spokesperson for Lightfoot wrote in an emailed statement in February that the mayor “has made it clear that she wants issues debated publicly as part of her ongoing commitment to transparency” and that “subject matter hearings provide a valuable opportunity for aldermen and members of the public to learn more about issues impacting Chicago.”

    Still, other aldermen viewed the trend as a sign that the council is too hesitant to take decisive action.

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